There has been a shift in recent years towards parents using alternative methods for overcoming challenging behavior in their children. One of the most popular methods, which has seen widespread and significant growth, is the usage of ‘time-outs’. Recent research has shown that time-outs can be used as quite an effective disciplinary technique. It is one of the few discipline strategies officially recommended by the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics).
However just because it is popular doesn’t mean it is always used correctly. In fact, because the usage of time-outs is so common, many parents find themselves unintentionally using it incorrectly, creating more harm than good.
So, what are time-outs, their benefits, and drawbacks, and what can you use as great alternatives? Read on to find out.
What Is A Time-Out?
Time-outs, at the most basic level, means putting the child somewhere boring, usually a corner or other quiet place, for a short period of time following misbehavior. Also named ‘quiet time’, ‘cool off time’, or ‘thinking time’, it essentially gives said child a moment to step back, think about what was done, and come down from the height of their emotions. Additionally, time-outs can give the parents a moment to step back and regain control of the situation and their own emotions and come back with a cooler head.
While seen as a much safer and effective method compared to consequences such as spanking, threatening, or shouting, time-outs can, unfortunately, be used inappropriately as well. Some critics argue that forcing young children to deal with their own powerful emotions alone teaches them to hide rather than work through them. Even simple things like not setting down basic boundaries and rules for time-outs or leaving the child alone for too long can cause time-outs to lose their effectiveness. When used briefly, infrequently, and correctly, time-outs can be effective, but there are also multiple time-out alternatives that may help parents far better.
What Are The Benefits of Using Time-Outs?
- Children learn self-control
- Gives children and parents time to destress
- Reduces engagement in destructive behavior
- Teaches the value of taking a break when overwhelmed
What Are The Drawbacks of Using Time-Outs?
- Can be isolating
- Doesn’t teach kids how to calm down appropriately
- Removes the child instead of teaching them how to work through issues
- Easily misused even by well-meaning parents
- Can cause power struggles between parent and child
8 Time Out Alternatives That Work
1. Time-Ins or Meditation
Sometimes it’s better to sit down, quietly, with your child and just have a moment of peace. This allows the child to feel confident that you aren’t leaving them, while still allowing them to work their emotions in an appropriate fashion until they are calm once more.
2. Allow Feels To Be Felt
Even though they are little, kids have big feelings and they will not have learned how to control them yet. Sometimes the best thing (if not the easiest) is to let them get all their feelings out and then discuss how they got to that point as well as how to rectify the situation.
3. Empathize and Talk It Out
One of the best ways to get through negative behaviors, whether that be hitting, screaming, or tantrum-throwing, is to put yourself in your child’s shoes. How and why did they get to this point? What can be done to fix it? Talk them through their emotions at the moment to allow them to decompress then and there while everything is still fresh in their minds.
4. Stay Calm and Carry On
Sometimes the best way to deal with a child’s tantrums (as long as they are non-violent) is to ignore and not instigate further. While time-outs put the child away from you, isolating them until the behavior is stopped, staying in the vicinity while allowing the behavior to peter out can be equally effective. This means staying cool, calm, and collected and letting your child regulate themselves by seeing you not reacting in kind to their blow-up.
5. Hold Group Meetings
Many times when it comes to inappropriate actions there is some sort of friction between family members that have gone undiscussed. Sometimes just sitting down and hashing it all out between those involved may be the key to heading off at least some of those behaviors. This is especially true as family members learn what is triggering to others and how to avoid those situations.
6. Hug It Out
It may seem like a child lashing out is them wanting nothing to do with you. However, it can also mean that said child is looking for something – affection, attention, or a combination of the two. Getting down on their level, giving them physical affection, and letting them know it is okay to feel how they feel while at the same time gently redirecting their attention and behavior can be just as effective as a time-out.
7. Make a List
Often negative behaviors have some sort of root cause, so getting to the root of the problem may be a great time-out alternative. Sit down with the child, try and figure out why and how situations are started, and what can be done to avoid them in the future.
Last but not least, calling a ‘do-over’ can be another time-out substitute. This gives the child a chance to go back to before their behavior started, as sometimes the increase in volatile behavior is directly related to being afraid of conflict afterward. Offering a do-over means the child doesn’t have to fear punishment and can rectify their behavior more easily.
In the end, each child, each family, and every situation is unique and so these time-out alternatives shouldn’t be seen as a fix to every situation. Instead, they, as well as properly used time-outs, should be seen as another tool in your parenting toolbox. I want you to remember that time-outs and time-out alternatives should always be used as reinforcement. My belief is that focusing on positive behaviors and reinforcing them when your child is behaving correctly and engaging properly is the number one way to get through problematic situations.
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